By Ray Hickson
It’s all going to trainer Warren Gavenlock’s plan to have Plonka arrive back at Randwick in April in career best form and lift the Newhaven Park Country Championships Final trophy after his close call in 2020.
The talented five-year-old can confirm his status as the horse to beat in the Northern Rivers Qualifer (1400m) at Coffs Harbour on February 13 when he travels to Grafton on Tuesday to complete his build up in a 1200m open Handicap.
Plonka won last year’s Northern Rivers Qualifier before being beaten less than half a length by Gracie Belle, who finished runner-up in the heat, at Randwick.
“The only problem I have at this stage with the horse, and believe this or not, is he’s never actually raced at Coffs Harbour,’’ Gavenlock said.
“He’s trialled there, he’s trained there, he works on the grass but he’s never raced there.
“Hopefully we will strike a good track on the day and every horse will get their chance including mine.”
Gavenlock was rapt with Plonka’s return at Grafton on January 24, he was beaten two and a half lengths by Bugalugs over 1000m and will meet that horse 2.5kg in their return bout.
From a sectional perspective, Punter’s Intelligence reveals Plonka, under top weight, ran his last 600m in 32.86 and his last 200m of 11.18 was 0.01 outside the race’s best.
It’s the same path Gavenlock took last year but the difference is in the weights – in the corresponding 1000m race he carried 54kg to 61kg this year while he had 55.5kg second-up in 2020 compared to the 61kg again.
“I was thrilled with it, he got to the line quite strong, especially having his first start back carrying 61kg plus the vest,’’ Gavenlock said.
“I think he’s a better horse. To hit the line like that last week with that weight and one barrier trial, it was very impressive.
“We tried to go to The Kosciuszko last year and didn’t get in so we put him away for this race and hopefully it pays dividends.”
Matthew McGuren has his second ride on Plonka at Grafton and Gavenlock confirmed he will ride the gelding at Coffs Harbour.
As it stands Plonka will carry 57.5kg in the $150,000 Qualifier but if he wins at Grafton he’ll become a Class 5 horse and rise to 59kg.
That doesn’t bother Gavenlock who says connections will more than happy to collect the $11,200 for first placing if he’s good enough to win as the early TAB market ($1.95) suggests he will.
“You’re coming back in class carrying 59kg if we happen to win so I’m not concerned about it,’’ he said.
“He’s going to be hitting the line at the finish and if he can win comfortably that’s how it will be.’’
Meanwhile, Gavenlock is hopeful that Coffs Harbour will finally be able to host its first Country Championships Qualifier after the meeting was washed out twice last year and eventually staged at Grafton.
Plonka runs second at Grafton on January 24
And, just as importantly, he said the owners have the fingers crossed that they can make it to Randwick in April and experience all the build up to the country feature and Day 1 of The Star Championships that the Covid-19 pandemic denied them in 2020.
“The club did everything they could last year,’’ Gavenlock said.
“They gave it a couple of days to dry out and we got more rain, it was just one of those unfortunate things.
“To Grafton’s credit they took the race there, and to me a win was a win and I was so excited to have my first crack at going into the Championships.
“A year has been a long time, we just hope we can get to the Final and not have it robbed from us like last year with the Covid problem.
“A lot of things got called off, it was the biggest race of my lifetime and the owners had to sit at home and watch it on television.”